Shoot the Money

Shoot the Money

by Chris Wiltz


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497655485
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 07/01/2014
Pages: 276
Sales rank: 842,078
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Christine Wiltz, a native of New Orleans, is the author of five novels, including  The Killing CircleA Diamond Before You Die , and  The Emerald Lizard , all set in New Orleans and featuring Irish Channel detective Neal Rafferty. Wiltz’s novel  The Glass House  was praised by the  New York Times  as “unflinchingly honest” and a book that “needs to be read on both sides of Convent Street.”  Shoot the Money , her most recent fiction, is an edgy “sisters in crime” novel reminiscent of Thelma and Louise.  The Last Madam , her biography of French Quarter legend Norma Wallace, is under option for film. 

Wiltz has written for the  New Yorker , the  Los Angeles Times , and numerous other publications. She has been a writer in residence and adjunct professor at both Tulane and Loyola Universities.

Read an Excerpt

Shoot the Money

A Novel

By Chris Wiltz


Copyright © 2012 Chris Wiltz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-5545-4


At 3:00 a.m. Karen Honeycutt woke up in a freezing hotel room above a casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, the song "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" running around her brain. The light from the muted TV flickered around the room. She was in bed alone, though she hadn't been when she went to sleep. She got dressed and headed downstairs where she found Jack O'Leary in the casino bar with his face smashed into that of a petite blonde wearing a dealer's uniform.

Karen had thought about leaving Jack many times during the past year, but that didn't keep the bottom from dropping out of her stomach as she watched the spectacle taking place at the end of the bar. Jack sat on the edge of a padded stool, his back against the bar lip, the blonde standing between his legs. She fingered his salt-and-pepper pony tail with one hand and pushed against his crotch with the other. Jack's hands slid down her rear end and pulled her tight. His tongue tangoed in her mouth. The only other spectators were a couple at a table across a wide garish path of red and yellow floral carpet, and the bartender who was taking a cigarette break. The couple looked too tired or too broke to care, the bartender too bored.

A surge of anger carried Karen a step forward, putting her inside the open door of the lounge. She stopped. She might want to consider her options, not limit them with a conversation that began, "You asshole."

She turned and made her way back through the casino, walking past rows of slot machines, roulette and blackjack tables. The constant hum of the vast room with the overlay of plinks and plonks that sounded like a shifting heap of trashed xylophones made Karen's ears feel as if they were crawling up her scalp. She couldn't think again until the elevator door closed and insulated her from the noise.

"... Make a new plan, Stan, just get yourself free." That song, still playing in her head. She must have heard it on some oldies station, the only ones Jack listened to, as they sped across Alligator Alley, fleeing Miami twenty-four hours earlier. God, but she was sick of Jack's lifestyle. The late nights, the gambling, the drinking, the lowlife Jack hung with, and now a new act to add to his repertoire—running for your life in the middle of the night.

And where had he decided to stop and think over their final destination? A half-put-back-together casino on the Gulf of Mexico where nine months earlier hurricane Katrina had ravaged the coast for miles, where Karen had developed a sense of excruciating fatigue, a lethargy so profound that all she could do was read the latest Poppy Z. Brite novel and gaze out at the treacherous water.

Karen was ready to get herself free. She wanted to go back to New Orleans, her home town, but she didn't have enough money on her to pay for a Greyhound bus ticket. That reminded her of something Jack had said at three o'clock yesterday morning when they were still at their nice town house in Coconut Grove. The conversation wasn't one they'd ever had before, yet at the same time it was a typical conversation between them. He'd shaken her awake, and as she opened one eye to look at the clock, he switched on the lamp and blasted her with light.

"Damn it, Jack. Could you give me some warning about the light?"

"Get up and throw some things in a suitcase. We're taking a trip." He talked to her from the bathroom as he emptied the medicine cabinet into a plastic grocery bag.

"What trip?"


"Where are we going?"

He didn't answer, as though he hadn't heard her. She could be right in his ear and he wouldn't answer, unbelievably aggravating the way his mind was always somewhere else. If she repeated the question, he'd turn around, look at her, and say, "What?" and she'd have to repeat it again. She lifted herself on an elbow and watched him move into the bedroom and stuff his socks and underwear into another grocery bag. When it was full he tied the plastic handles together.

She waited. Several moments later he said, "Vegas," then, "I don't know. Come on, baby, get the fuck up. Pack a suitcase. Okay, pack two." As if she'd protested.

"We only have one," she called after him as he took all the plastic bags and dropped them in a pile at the top of the stairs. Back in the bedroom, he slid the suitcase from the top shelf of the closet and flipped it open on the bed for her.

"Jack, what's going on? I have a job, remember? I'm supposed to open the shop today."

His answer was to start taking his clothes to the car by the armload. Karen pushed back the covers, and as she sat up, hunched her shoulders and held her crossed arms tight over her chest, a defense against the assault of the air conditioner. The first thing Jack did when he entered the house was lower the thermostat to sixty. He was always hot, as though the blood boiled in his veins.

Karen walked over to the closet, and slid the mirrored doors so she could view her end of it. She sat back on the foot of the bed, despondent. She had no idea where to start.

Jack took the stairs two at a time. "Come on, sugarpie," he said breezing back in. Mr. Efficient. The Good Humor Man. "No time to ponder. Just start dumping things in bags. You can fill the trunk of the bird." The turquoise 1958 Thunderbird convertible Jack had bought off eBay.

"It's Solo, isn't it?" Karen said. "You pissed Solo off."

Jack was out of the bedroom and down the stairs with another armful. Karen began taking her best clothes off the hangers, the Versace and Gaultier outfits Jack had given her as peace offerings, folding each one, laying it just so in the suitcase. She heard the car door slam, and he was back, framed in the bedroom doorway, watching her.

"You're gonna have to move a little faster than that."

Karen heard the edge of annoyance in his voice. "This is as fast as I move at this time of day," she said, mild and calm because she knew it would irritate the crap out of him.

She zipped the suitcase and packed a large tote with some casual pants and T-shirts. She filled a couple of grocery bags with cosmetics and hair stuff, then went down to the living room. Jack, with all four bags, started out to the car.

"I want to bring the commode," Karen said.

Jack dropped the suitcase. "What?" he said over his shoulder, his hand on the doorknob. "And my library table."

These were the only antiques Karen had ever bought, the commode a particularly nice piece with a marble top and deep cabinet underneath.

"Christ," said Jack and opened the door.

Karen followed him outside to the slot where the car was parked in front of the town house they rented. "We can get a U-Haul," she told him.

Jack opened the trunk and put the bags and Karen's suitcase in it. He walked over to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Look, baby, those are just things. We can always get other things."

"Getting things is time consuming. It consumes my time. I already found things I like.

Anyway, a U-Haul will cost a lot less than replacing them."

"You're missing the fucking point, Karen. We have to go now."

"No, I'm not missing the fucking point, Jack. The fucking point is I want to take my antiques with me. You're taking your antique," meaning the car.

He dropped his hands to his sides. "You can sound so goddamn reasonable—you know, practical, and then, what, you think we can get out of here without a car? I'm supposed to leave it? Give me a break, Karen. It's the only goddamn car we have."

"I was just trying to make a point, for Christ sake."

"We can sit around here and jaw this thing to death, but if they get here before we leave ..." He trailed off, flipped his hand, drew a finger across her neck.

"You're saying they'd kill us? Are you talking about Solo?"

He gave her a stone look then let his eyes sweep the row of houses behind her. "This is not a good place to talk, sweetface. Let's just get in the car."

"No. I'm not going. Why would Solo kill us?"

Air rushed from Jack's wide nostrils. He nodded toward the front door, and Karen followed him into the living room.

"You know how Solo's always so well-groomed, expensive suits, shoes, four hundred dollar haircuts, not a hair out of place ... you know he has his chest waxed?"

"What does that have to do with ..."

"So listen." He spoke low, as though someone was in the room with them. "He wasn't always so perfect. When he was five he saw his father stabbed to death, then he found his mother—she'd either OD'd or she was murdered too. Solo became a homeless, barefoot boy of the streets. He was half naked—the only clothes he had to his name were some nylon shorts with the Miami Heat logo on them ..."

"Okay, that's it, Jack, just stop. Nylon shorts with the Heat's logo? You are so full of shit ..." She waved a dismissive hand at him and started to turn toward the kitchen.

He grabbed her by the wrist. "Wait, listen, this is not a joke. He ate scraps from garbage cans, he smelled like a wet dog. Around Little Havana they started calling him Perro Chico, you know, Dog Boy ..."

"For Christ sake."

Jack tightened his grip. "When he was seven he was adopted by the Allapattah Boys.

They treated him like a slave, made an ass-wipe out of him until someone started making hits on the Latin Lovers. The rival gang. At first it was on the gang's dogs. He'd leave the dog's head on the door step, throw the body in a dumpster. Soon Perro Chico became a lieutenant and started killing the Lovers themselves, only they never found the bodies, just the tongue in the victim's refrigerator."

"That's disgusting, and I don't believe a word of it. Let me go."

Jack held tighter. "Do you want to take a chance it's not true? People don't change. He might change his clothes and act respectable, but he's still an Allapattah on the inside. He's gonna be over here looking for me and he's gonna torture you until you tell him. And if you can't tell him, even if you can, he'll cut your fucking tongue out."

They stood for a few seconds, tense, staring at each other.

"Okay, I'll go, but I still don't believe you. Let me go get some things. There's still a lot of space in the trunk."

"Space isn't the consideration here. Time is."

"I'm just going to get some sheets and blankets, a few pots ..."

"Karen, just go get in the car."

She tried to pull her arm away, but he had it in a bruiser grip. "That stuff costs a fortune! You said I could fill the trunk."

"What am I trying to say here?" He got right in her face. "Money's not a problem."

Karen stood there thinking that this business about money not being a problem was the most worrisome thing Jack had said. Money was always a problem, especially if Jack said it wasn't.

"Can we just get the fuck in the car, Karen?"

"After," she said, twisting her arm out of his grip, "I get my purse."

* * *

Once they were out of the city, racing across Alligator Alley through the Everglades to Naples, Karen remembered her red dancing dress—a Donna Karan, bias-cut silk—that was at the cleaners. Jack liked to buy her clothes when he was flush, but this one, her favorite, she'd bought for herself from the boutique where she worked. Used to work.

She looked over at Jack. The wind whipped through the convertible and messed with his mane of hair. He caught the pony tail and pulled it alongside his neck, then pushed it down inside his shirt. He was something like twenty years older than she was. Pushing fifty, unless he was lying and even older. And he was plenty vain enough to lie. He spent more time in the bathroom working on his hair than she did. In some ways, he was younger than any of the guys she'd dated before him. He had the radio up loud. His head bobbed in time to the music. He drummed his fingers on the top of the steering wheel. He looked like a man who didn't have a care in the world.

Karen had once thought he was so wise and powerful; she liked the age on him. Now she saw him for what he was, a gambler, an alcoholic, and a cokehead. She could feel the frustration and disappointment of the past years roiling around inside her. All the late nights, all the waiting she'd done, all the unsatisfying conversations about where Jack had been and what he'd been doing, having to be nice to Jack's friends, like that lowlife Solo Fontova and his gang of Cuban thugs. She knew they laughed at her anger and the way Jack mollified her with money and gifts and called her baby, sugarpie.... Once upon a time, a long time ago, she'd liked those little endearments, but now they made her skin crawl.

She could feel her throat closing, hot tears gathering, the wind blowing them out of the corners of her eyes, along her temples, into her hair. It made her furious, everything she had left behind, that everything always had to be Jack's way, and that here she was getting ready to cry over it all when she damn well should have known better than to let Jack sweet talk her into giving up a good job in New Orleans and going to Miami with him.

She could feel the anger pushing up through her chest, opening her lungs like a bellows, and ripping through her tight throat.

"My red dress!" she wailed into the wind, surprised at what had come out. The tears broke loose.

Jack turned down the radio. "What?" he said.

* * *

When Karen got back to the hotel room, she went to the top dresser drawer where she'd seen Jack put a stack of bills. She picked it up, a shorter stack than it had been, and rifled it. A few fifty dollar bills, but mostly tens and twenties, not more than a thousand altogether. If money wasn't a problem, where was the rest of it?

A couple of long strides brought Karen to the closet in the short entrance hallway. She slid open the door and went down on one knee in front of the safe, putting the bills from the drawer on top of it. Jack was superstitious about numbers. They called out to him, they came to him in dreams. He had visions of numbers, overheard them in conversations, bet them. But for the burglar alarm at the town house or to access messages or use the ATM, he used 2580, a straight shot down the number pad, no patience for anything except all night poker games and sports on TV.

Karen's finger went down the middle row of numbers on the safe. She pulled down the handle, but the safe didn't open. She read the directions. You needed six numbers. She tried 258000. Nothing. She tried several variations and lost track without a system. Maybe he'd used his birthday. She punched in the date. It didn't work. "Lying bastard," she said and went down a year at a time until he'd now be sixty-five. Her palms were beginning to sweat. If Jack's tongue had gotten tired, he could be on his way to the room. Her back and neck crawled in anticipation of him walking through the door. She rushed to it and put on the chain.

Kneeling in front of the safe again, she rubbed her cold hands together, cupped them, and blew into her palms. Now that she'd gone this far, Karen wanted out badly, away from Jack, and to get back to New Orleans, back to her old life. She hoped it was still there, not blown apart by the hurricane. She had no new ideas so she played with Jack's speed code, this time systematically, double two, double five, double eight, then alternating. She scored beginning with the double zero and putting the code in backwards.

The lever engaged, the door opened, and Karen saw a gym bag stuffed into the safe. She fell backwards pulling it out, righted herself, and unzipped it. It looked like mostly tens and twenties, but as she sifted through the bills, several fifties and hundreds rolled to the top, the money jumbled together, as though Jack had won the big pot at the poker game. But if he'd won it, where did Solo Fontova fit in?

For now, Karen wanted to get out of the room fast, not to think too hard about anything except that it looked like enough money to set her up in New Orleans, which her mother had told her had gotten expensive since the storm—high rents, big energy bills, and pricey, if available, services. She zipped the bag closed, grabbed the bills on top of the safe, and started to throw them inside. That's when she saw the black gun lying on the safe's dark floor.

She stared at it, not sure why she was hesitating, getting more nervous by the second.


Excerpted from Shoot the Money by Chris Wiltz. Copyright © 2012 Chris Wiltz. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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